The Kenyan Government has proposed a law that would ban mandatory bride-price payments, recognize co-habiting couples, and legalize polygamy. The Marriage Bill 2012 was approved by the cabinet but must also pass parliament before becoming national law.

Marriage Bill 2012 will eliminate the current customary law that dictates a marriage is not legal until a bride-price has been paid. This custom is practiced by more than 40 different ethnic groups in Kenya. The bill does not outlaw the practice, however, so families wishing to pay a bride-price would be allowed to do so.

The proposed marriage reform law would also recognize a couple that has been living together for six-months, so called “come-we-stay” relationships, as legally married. This provision of the proposed law aims to recognize these relationships in part to protect any children born to such couples that then separate, leaving one person alone to raise a child or children.

Marriage Bill 2012 would also legalize polygamy in respect to different cultures within Kenya where polygamous marriages are considered the norm. According to Africa Review, the cabinet issued a statement that the proposal seeks to bring together Christian, Hindu, Islamic, civil and traditional laws and provide protections for all different types of marriages in the country.

Other reforms included in the proposed law would protect widows from wife inheritance, raise the minimum age for marriage to 18, and give men and women equal status within all marriages. The bill does not recognize same-sex couples and defined marriage as the “voluntary union of a man and a woman intended to last for their lifetime.”

According to the BBC, the vast majority of members of parliament are men and are likely to oppose sections of the bill on the basis of cultural and traditional values.

Media Resources: Africa Review 11/9/12; BBC News 11/9/12